An American Scandal
CBS (Sun. and Wed., Feb. 13 and 16, 9 p.m. ET)

Declaration of Independence? Louisiana Purchase? Mere footnotes! It's his sex life that makes Thomas Jefferson a star. Nick Nolte played the Founding Father dallying with slave Sally Hemings in the 1995 movie Jefferson in Paris, which only seemed as long as a miniseries. Now CBS takes four hours to explore a more-or-less consensual relationship (if such could be possible between owner and chattel) lasting from 1788 until Jefferson's death in 1826. Though the official keepers of the Jefferson flame acknowledged last month that our third President likely begot one, if not all six, of Hemings's children, they won't be thrilled to see Sam Neill portray him as a rather ineffectual hypocrite. Sally quotes lines from his past writings that reek of racism and Jefferson sputters, "You have taken my observations out of context." Get this guy a spin doctor.

Carmen Ejogo's Sally certainly has the beauty and spirit to win a great man's heart. But when Jefferson says, "I love you, God help me, I do!" and sinks to his knees, the script seems to have wandered far from the history books—even the revisionist ones—and into romance-novel territory.

Bottom Line: Flawed giant, flawed film

The Movie
NBC (Sun., Feb. 13, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

When Homicide: Life on the Street ended its 6½-year NBC run in 1999 (the final episode repeats Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. ET on Court TV), Lt. Al Giardello (Yaphet Kotto) turned down a promotion to captain in the Baltimore Police Department. So now he's ambitious enough to run for mayor in this reunion movie? Improbable premise notwithstanding, fans will become engrossed in the search for a shooter who seriously wounds Giardello at a rally. Last season's detective squad is joined by a number of veterans who left before the finish, including mainstay Frank Pembleton (Andre Braugher) and old-timer Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty). Newcomers may not appreciate the in-jokes and flashbacks, but the intense soul-searching of Pembleton and ex-partner Tim Bayliss (Kyle Secor) will explain to all why Homicide had a devoted, though not huge, following.

Bottom Line: Owns the street

PBS (Mon., Feb. 14, 9 p.m. ET)

In modern politics, a "showdown" usually means a debate in which candidates shoot sound bites at each other. But on July 11, 1804, during a period when character assassination was rampant, Vice President Aaron Burr and former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton used real bullets. Their long feud culminated when Burr, outraged at a reported insult, challenged Hamilton to a duel with pistols. Such "affairs of honor" typically were settled short of gunfire, but this one ended with Hamilton dead and Burr roundly despised. This American Experience program, narrated by Linda Hunt, tells the still-shocking story with a commendable mix of drama and dispassion. Non-star actors play the antagonists in silent scenes, while the words of Burr and Hamilton are read by Brian Dennehy and René Auberjonois, respectively. Historians explain the personality contrast—Burr the charismatic opportunist, Hamilton the ferocious political warrior—that was at the root of their fatal enmity. The lesson for our time is that the politics of personal destruction is nothing new.

Bottom Line: Well-aimed

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
A&E (Sun., Feb. 13, 8 p.m. ET)

You prefer murder without the grit of Homicide (see page 26)? Then you're the target viewer for this Agatha Christie mystery featuring sleuth extraordinaire Hercule Poirot. David Suchet, who played Poirot in a series of TV movies from the late 1980s to the mid-'90s, returns to the role of the Belgian detective in fine, fastidious form. Watch him roll up his sleeve ever so carefully before reaching into a shallow pond to retrieve evidence. You can be confident that Poirot will come to a neat conclusion concerning what he calls a "crime most dastardly." Industrialist Roger Ackroyd (Malcolm Terris) has been found murdered in his English country home, and there's even a possibility that the butler did it. The elements are in place for a diverting game of Clue, which climaxes when Poirot honors custom by gathering all the suspects in one room for a combination seminar and inquisition.

Bottom Line: Polished puzzle

>Sunday, Feb. 13 MEET THE POWERPUFF GIRLS Cartoon Network (noon ET) The animated superhero sisters show their stuff in an eight-hour marathon.

Monday, Feb. 14 LIAR LIAR ABC (8 p.m. ET) Jim Carrey is a lawyer who can't handle the truth in this 1997 comedy hit.

Tuesday, Feb. 15 NYPD BLUE ABC (10 p.m. ET) Martinez (Nicholas Turturro) bids a fond farewell to the 15th Precinct.

Wednesday, Feb. 16 THE WEST WING NBC (9 p.m. ET) How injudicious of him. A Supreme Court nominee (guest star Edward James Olmos) gets arrested for drunk driving.

Thursday, Feb. 17 JOHNSON TAPES TLC (9 p.m. ET) A documentary examines Lyndon Johnson's fight for civil-rights legislation and J. Edgar Hoover's spying on Martin Luther King Jr.

Friday, Feb. 18 NOW AND AGAIN CBS (9 p.m. ET) John Goodman reprises his role as the guy Eric Close used to be.

Saturday, Feb. 19 ANALYZE THIS HBO (8 p.m. ET) Billy Crystal serves as therapist-consigliere to mobster Robert De Niro in this funny 1999 film.

>Blair Underwood

If clothes make the man, then Blair Underwood has been ready for his close-up on the new CBS medical drama City of Angels ever since he discovered that the scrubs he wore for son Paris's 1997 birth were surprisingly comfortable. "From that day forward," says Underwood, who plays surgeon Ben Turner, "I've been wearing scrubs at home all the time—my pj's are scrubs. It's only appropriate that I come to work and put on scrubs."

That's not the only part of Angels that rings true for Underwood, 35, who is enjoying a rare opportunity to work with a predominantly African-American cast and crew. "Initially the public is going to feel this 'chocolate blanket,' I call it," says Underwood, who appeared on seven seasons of L.A. Law. "But once they tune in, they'll see it is really a reflection of L.A. and of America."

Underwood's role as husband and father to wife Désirée, 37, son Paris, 2, and 15-month-old daughter, Brielle, is a reflection of his paramount priority: his family. "The axis in my universe has shifted," says Underwood. "Nothing is more important than what is at home."

  • Contributors:
  • Michelle Caruso.